Did your Ancestor fall off the edge of the Earth? Can't find him?

 Why is it sometimes hard to find our Ancestors?

I used to make a trip to Los Angeles from a little town up the coast once a month to go to a special Family History Library.  It was an hour away and it was pretty magical; just filled with vital information.   I was determined to find the answers to the stories I had heard my whole life so the hour trip was not a big deal.

 At 27, I would go to the local Church Family History Library and request microfilm.  I would pay the 3.00 and then go home and wait.  The Librarian would send off to Salt Lake City for the little box of miracles.  When it arrived, I would get a call to come to the Library and put the film on a large machine with a big crank.  Turning the crank and advancing the film, thousands of names would flash through the light until you slowed it down and focused on the page that supposedly held the names of your people.
It was always a puzzle if I had chosen the right box of microfiche.  Once I wanted to believe it was the right one, I thought about changing  the data to match what the film said.  "I hope there aren't people who really do that out of desperation, but I almost understand if they did".  Your imagination does crazy things when you don't feel like you have any other options than what is before you in that little box.  But, what good would it do to cheat?   Changing your family story to match what is on the microfilm is absolutely r i d i c u l o u s!   

Now, we have billions of records and we can have access to them from the comfort of our living room from our laptops.  But what happens when we still can't find what or who we are looking for?  We need to understand WHY, then it's easier to understand HOW to find them and WHERE to look!

First - go to FAMILYSEARCH.ORG and get a free family tree account!  

Reasons why you can't find your relative....

1.  in 1790 Census takers had to read and write.  They received 1.00 for every 150 people (in a rural setting) and 1.00 for every 300 people in a town or city.   That was a lot of money then so if you read and wrote well, yes there was a handwriting test, you could get the job.  However, money is a motivator to short cut the answers or get it quickly from someone but not necessarily thoroughly.
2)  Census takers tried to be neat, but the writing implements, paper were quite coarse and unrefined.  
3)  Not only was it hard to read because of the medium, the handwriting was sometimes difficult to read.  The different styles were varied - not like reading a typed census.

4)  Misspellings occurred because Census takers just wrote what they heard and did not verify the spelling of names by reading them back.  Now, a census taker would read it back to the customer before documenting.
So on the premise that the Eneumerators/Indexers from this time period either just wrote what they heard or what someone told them, it may become problematic.  So if you are struggling try different spellings by phonics:  Smith, Smythe, Smithe, etc.,
You can also click the SOUNDEX button which will return all varieties of the same name.

5)  Name changes.  Females married early.  If a census happens every 10 years, you only have one real chance to find her before she is out of the home and married with another name.
6)  Who did she marry?  Think about proximity.  You married a boy from your school or a neighbor.  What kind of neighbor?  In the 1800s a high percentage of the United States public were farmers.  They had a lot of children to help on the farm.  They lived on large plots of land and other members of the family - like Grandparents, Uncles and Aunts, and cousins.
a)  1st cousins could marry prior to 1865 in 13 States
b) Check the margin of the census on the left side to read the street name and the house numbers.


Here's a great idea - go to maps.google.com and input the address of a Great Grandparent's home (or whomever) then look at the streetview and print it out as a surprise for someone you want to get excited about Family History.  When they see the homeland where their family walked and lived, they will fall in love with their family roots, heritage and yearn to know more!


7)  Check neighboring counties or States for marriage records in case the young couple eloped because their own county had an age rule about getting married.
8)  What if one girl has been married to two different Sons or their Father?  Sounds strange right?  Well back in the 1800s and before, that was how families took care of their women when a Son would die.  So look for marriages in that direction.
9)  Poor indexing - sometimes we don't train people as well as we should.  When you have a picture of a document, no one can find it online, unless it is indexed and the names on the document are added so that now the picture becomes searchable.  The problem occurs however, when people are careless and spell a name incorrectly.
10)  Change of name.  When soldiers got a taste of a horrific war, sometimes they deserted then guilt or the need for money would cause them to go to a recruiter in the next town and change their name just enough to be able to answer naturally when called and qualify for a weekly stipend. So when searching War of 1812, Civil War or World War I and II, make sure you check a variety of spellings.  Now with our National Databases and the Social Security System, a deserter could not jump back in and keep going but then, it was much easier.

11)  If your relative lived on a Reservation, the Native Americans may have changed his or her name, but they did allow the Census takers to come onto the Reservation and take their census'.

12)  If your relative was a Nun in a Convent, prisoner in a jail, patient in a tuberculosis hospital,  or in an insane asylum, they will be merely referred to as an "inmate",.

13)  If you still can
t find her, check and see if someone in desperation just added her as Mrs. John Smith instead of her name,  Jean (sample maiden name:  Jones)  Though it fills the blanks with an answer that would fool the search engine into keeping it going,

14)  If you run across a misspelling on a census form, it could still be your relative.  This is why.  In census' leading up to the 1940, they all had the inference that the answers were at least given by someone in the family (head of household, or his wife).  If the Father gave the census taker the information, he would have certainly spelled his name correctly.  But consider this possibility.  Before 1940, a census taker did not have to list where she got the information from.  She could have spoken to a neighbor or someone close by who still new her as a friend.

15)  Most people stayed put.  Moving was just difficult logistically.  However, if you find two for the same year and it seems to have all the same children with the correct ages, they could have been processed by two different census takers, that's all.

16)  Census takers had to make copies of their records which, one went to the County, and one went to National.  When they made copies, they very carefully alphabetized the list of names.  That is how you will know it is a copy and not the original document.  If there are errors, it was made during the copy making.

17)  Prior to 1860 the names of the children were not listed, so you will have to work backwards, so you know what the age of the children were from the 1860 and 1870 census data, then very carefully make a note of how old each child was and the number.  It will just be a tally mark next to the age bracket like this:






0-2 0-2 3-10 3-10 11-18 11-18
1 11 111 11 1 1
18)  Very few husbands can get birthdays of their kids right.  If the head of house gave the information, he sometimes guesstimated.  In Genealogy, because the enumeration took from 6 months to a year, there can be up to a 2 year difference which is acceptable a proof if other records validate.

Hope this helps you.  If I think of anymore, I will add it here.


Find Take and Teach Helps for Genealogy Consultants

This moves slowly however when we do it as a live
presentation, the Power Point is only about 17 minutes long.

After the Presentation, we answer questions and individually can
show everyone how to Merge files, avoid duplicate entries, add a record, source your documents, add a memory, add a picture.

We discuss what real documentation is in the presentation.
Some people will source a document, "Because she is my mother" or "Because I was there".  that is not appropriate any longer.  Let's try to find
Birth Certificates, Death Certificates, Marriage Certificates,
Property, deeds, Obituaries and Millennial Files or Census Data.
Prior to 1710, Census Data that is approved is from roll call at town meetings and church attendance.  These are called Compiled Census Records, Electoral Registers and Quaker Meeting Records, etc.,

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